Coalition sees damage to Great Lakes growing
Written by Akron Beacon Journal   
Saturday, 23 September 2006 13:47

Problems on the Great Lakes are approaching the tipping point and environmentalists need to intensify their push for Congress to fund restoration efforts on the lakes.Those assessments came Friday from a series of speakers during the first day of the two-day Great Lakes Restoration Conference sponsored by the eco-group Healing Our Waters -- Great Lakes Coalition.

The 18-month-old group comprises nearly 90 environmental groups in the Midwest, and was created to offer a unified grass-roots voice on problems of the Great Lakes.

Scientists are worried that the lakes are approaching a tipping point after which recovery will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, said University of Michigan professor Don Scavia, the coalition's chief scientist.

Invasive species, overfishing, nutrient loading, toxic chemicals, overflowing sewers, land use, hydrologic changes and global warming are all having a major impact on the lakes, he said.

The stresses are interconnected, complicating efforts to understand the severe ecological changes taking place, he said. No one can predict when the lakes will reach the tipping point.

Scavia cited the reappearance of the so-called ``dead zone'' in Lake Erie, a large area depleted of dissolved oxygen so that it cannot support fish.

``It's back,'' he said. ``We're not sure why but it's back.... It's troubling.''

Areas of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are undergoing major changes as zebra and quagga mussels -- invasive species from Asia -- spread. They are suspected of sharply reducing the numbers of tiny aquatic species that are in turn food for larger fish. The tiny species have been all but wiped out in some areas, leaving no food for larger fish, Scavia said.

More than 80 invasive species have been found in the Great Lakes since 1959 -- with a new one appearing every eight months, speakers said.

Lake Erie alone provides drinking water to 3 million Ohioans. It supports a quarter million jobs producing $5.8 billion a year in wages. It also supports a $1 billion sport-fishing industry and a $9.5 billion tourist industry.

Environmentalists need to mobilize now, said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Natural Resource Center. ``Business as usual will kill the Great Lakes,'' he said.

He said environmentalists need to convince Congress to invest $20 billion over 30 years to solve the Great Lakes' problems.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft told 300 people at the luncheon: No new money is ``not an acceptable response'' from Congress.

U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, said getting Congress to appropriate the kind of money the Great Lakes need will be difficult with the war in Iraq and terror being the top monetary priorities in Washington, D.C.

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